The Body

Sorry I’ve not been around a lot in the past few days, apart from the internet connection troubles I am settling in at University again and have been spending more time watching rubbish TV with my housemates (being a proper student šŸ˜€ ). Anyway, I did find the time to write a little something.

Nowadays the body is viewed quite differently due to increased mobilisation with the mass use of cars and a change in the job market from labour intensive to office work/computerised systems.

Berber Women

Mostly we experience and theorise about our bodies in medical terms. Critical thinkers have rejected this biologicalĀ reductionism and state we need to see the body in cultural, social, economic and political contexts. Feminists agree that the body should be recongnised as a part of the surrounding environment. For instance, male bodies are stronger because they are encouraged to take part in sports which develop muscles. However, Berber women are the ones who carry heavy loads over long distances and thus are viewed as stronger than men.

Phenomenology, briefly, is the idea that the ‘self’ (mind) and body are inextricably linked. When normal body functions become impaired or restricted it’s almost impossible to not reflect on the ‘self’. Medical illnesses can not only disrupt how the biological body works but can cause psychological issues resulting in a loss of self-confidence, hence, affecting social life, economic participation etc. Something I’m intimately aware of.

Phenomenology provides a bridge between the naturalist perspective which advocates the body as a biological entity and social constructionism which focuses on the body in a cultural context, being influenced by the society within which it resides.

To me, the body cannot beĀ separatedĀ from the ‘self’ asĀ CartesianĀ dualists claim, as the intentions of the ‘self’ have a direct effect on the body. If you decide to climb a vertical cliff your body takes the strain, similarly if you prefer to restrict exercise to the more conventional morning jog/walk it’s the body which ultimately becomes stronger and consequently causes your self-esteem to build.

In the modern age where beauty is defined in comparison with air-brushed magazine photos and tall, slim models inevitably generations of insecure people have learnt to assess and criticise their bodies inĀ conjunctionĀ with their self-worth. This attitude has created the ‘beauty myth’ of socially constructed, unattainable beauty.

In desperation many turn towards the medical profession and cosmetic surgery. This technology could be utilised to create uniqueness but instead it’s exploited to form ‘normality’. The freckles which brought individual character to your face are deemed unsightly and the laughter lines by your eyes which show a life of experience andĀ fulfillment also have to be cast away. It’s as though society wishes to stifle personality by subtly encouraging us that our appearance is somehow ‘wrong’ because we don’t confirm to the ‘norm’. The consumer culture is not only exploiting our pockets, influencing our opinionsĀ and lifestyles but causing the body to be objectified in a manner which disregards personality or talent. Just look at celebrities, what does Katie Price actually do? Who cares, with knockers like that she can force herself into the media all she likes. Who cares if the latest singer mimes during live concerts because they can’t really sing, as long as they look the part they’re allowed to strut about on stages across the globe.

Cosmetic surgery primarily targets women, some feminists see this as an extension of patriarchy as men seek to control and objectify women through the ‘beauty myth’. Other feminists argue medical professionals don’t advocate patriarchy but seek to increase their own influence and acquire power.

Whatever your view on the ‘beauty myth’ and cosmetic surgery it’s evident society is being oppressed and educated into a docile, false consciousness which is responsible for the lack of confidence and inferiority experienced by those who attempt to resist the ‘norm’.

(Obviously I’m talking about cosmetic surgery for beauty, not for reconstruction after burning, skin cancer or other accidents/illnesses).

Main References:

Katie DavisĀ Reshaping the Female Body: the dilemma of cosmetic surgery

Susan BordoĀ Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture and the Body

B.S.TurnerĀ Medical power and Social KnowledgeĀ  andĀ The Body and Society: explorations in social theory

N.WolfĀ The Beauty Myth: how images of beauty are used against women

Images from google

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Suffolk Pink

Just an interesting fact for you all. You might be aware that stereotypically Suffolk houses are painted pink, well if you weren’t you are now šŸ˜€ Traditionally this pink colour was achieved by mixing chalk with pigs blood. A bit disgusting I know, but thankfully nowadays they are probably painted with Dulux (other brands are available šŸ™‚ ). Still, it’s nice the stories and traditions still live on.

Orford bakery, taken in Suffolk 2012

Orford bakery, Suffolk 2012

Just a little thought

Picture from Facebook perhaps? I can’t remember, I saved it a while ago. šŸ˜€

I’m as guilty as the next woman, I enjoy shopping for clothes and shoes and making an effort to look nice. But if there were less made-up girls in the world the rest of us would feel more comfortable in ourselves. When I dress up to go out I still do the bare minimum; a bit of makeup along with doing the best to make my curly, frizzy hair organise itself into ringlets (without the aid of curling tongues, and a lot of the time I let it dry naturally – I’m lazy). In front of my mirror I think I look quite pretty but sometimes you wonder if you should make more of an effort, just to keep up with the high maintenance women of the 21st century. Sure, dress up a bit and look nice but why should we feel the need to plaster on the foundation, wear fake eyelashes (something I’ve never done – I wouldn’t know where to start) and totter about in extremely high, lethal kitten heels? More girls should say “No thanks” and maybe more men would start to appreciate natural beauty rather than the fake version advertised my magazines, TV shows etc.

Saying this, men are targeted by the media more and more. In fact, I’m sure most guys in my classes make more of an effort and spend longer on their hair than I do. Commercialism and the consumer society has made us all victims of desire and appearance, how long will this go on before realisation hits the western world?

DP Challenge: Seductive Language

There are many good writers out there; a few of them published and even less become truly successful. However, there will always be those whose writing sticks in your head so persistently that you find it completely impossible to pick up another book for days, perhaps weeks. To me, this is the sign of a remarkable book. As you hungrily read the last page, the last paragraph, the last word you can spend a few treasured moments wallowing in contentment, allowing not only the story to wash over you but the language.

Of course, eventually you will be hit with a wave of loss. You are now spoiled for any other writer; nothing can wipe away the memory of that authorsā€™ exquisite writing. You find yourself smiling to yourself at odd moments as parts of the plot rush back to you, or perhaps you realise people around you resemble the characterisations intimately described in the book.

One such book would be ā€˜Pride and Prejudiceā€™ by Jane Austen. I know you can argue the language is only so seductive as it represents a by-gone era of chivalry, romance and culture but you canā€™t help but lose yourself. The first chapter starts:

ā€œIt is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.ā€

However sexist it is, I canā€™t help myself but settle back in my chairs, snuggle down and smile, knowing I am in for a satisfying ride in a society which may seem familiar and yet never fails to surprise and amuse as the lives of Elizabeth, Jane and of course the enigmatic Mr. Darcy unravel in a tale of love, betrayal, snobbery and tradition.

In a way modern authors will struggle to compete which such style as they draw upon modern experiences and modern language, neither of which enchants the reader as effectively. Of course this is different for different people, do any authors have this affect on you?

More modern books which have stayed with me include ā€˜The Kite Runnerā€™, a fascinating tale of a young man who escapes Afghanistan as a boy only to return later in search of redemption and acceptance. This tale, told by Khaled Hosseini, portrays Afghanistan as it once was ā€“ a country of beauty, friendship and community ā€“ before it was torn apart by war and conflict.

Sometimes it is the style of writing, sometimes the plot, or the message behind the words that attracts you to a story and causes it to remain with you. Shivers travel down you spine as quotes or the general tone or style returns at odd moments. This is the sign of a truly remarkable achievement all writers aspire to but few ever attain. Sadly for most it will not occur until after their death as new language emerges which eventually renders their style mysterious and unattainable.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Urban

Ok, so I’m not an urban girl. I avoid large masses of people and only venture into cities for specific reasons. When I do brave the crowds it’s not often I stop long enough to take photo, I want to go home as soon as possible. There are many people who will be thinking “What? Why?” but it’s an inherited trait.

Saying this, when I do go to the great cities of the world I pay attention. The first photo was taken in London three or four years ago when I went round parliament. The others were taken in Paris a couple of years ago, and although it’s not very patriotic, Paris is far nicer. Paris is such a beautiful city, although it’s obviously urban it seems cleaner and calmer, I don’t have many pictures of London so you’ve only got the one to compare the others with. Do you agree? Or do you prefer London?

This week’s challengeĀ  stated urban photography demonstrates social and cultural aspects as well as the image itself. In these photos art, history, culture and architecture are represented and these are the elements I believe are at the centre of Parisian life. It’s what the French are proud of, what tourists (like me) come to see and are recognisable all over the world. I say forget London, go to Paris šŸ˜€

I loved how the light fell and was so lucky to capture it, this photo makes me feel quite nostalgic.

I’m not sure what the blur in the bottom left, maybe the person in the middle was shaking their head really quickly just as I took the photo?

This one’s a bit blury but oh well šŸ™‚

http://urbanphotographychallenge.tumblr.com/ to see more entries all in one place.

Socialisation: Part Two

Theories of socialisation

There are three approaches to socialisation; they all contribute different understandings of socialisation:

Psychoanalytic theory (S. Freud)

Freud focused on the unconscious mind and how emotions drive people towards particular actions and behaviours, primarily the desire for pleasurable experiences and sexual gratification. He asserted the conscious mind, otherwise known as the ego, is dominated by attempts to control such unconscious drives.

As for socialisation, psychoanalytic theory states the first few years are crucial for the formation of ā€˜selfā€™. A sense of morality is gradually internalised and becomes part of the conscious mind, called the ā€˜superegoā€™.

Psychoanalysis looks at the relationship between the surface structure of consciousness and the deeper, inner structure of the unconscious, much of the early psychoanalytical theory emphasised the biological bases of emotions and the ways in which people learn to try to control their natural tendencies. Later psychoanalysts broadened this perspective and recognised the cultural origin of these unconscious drives

Sigmund Freud argued that the core elements of the personality are formed during childhood, the first few years of life develops a sense of self, morality and conscious orientation to the world. Parental prohibitions and punishments are gradually internalised by the child as knowledge of right and wrong in their conscience. There are several studies looking at how parents and teachers can instil expected codes of behaviour in children, Thorndike and Pavlov are the first two who come to mind but their thoughts are for another time and post.

Role-learning theory (structural-functionalist approach)

A structural-functionalist approach which stresses the importance of learning the norms that make up role expectations. It rejects biological reductionism and states social roles are blueprints for action learned through interaction; systems of rewards and punishments induce conformity to role expectations. This process of internalisation guarantees the maintenance of conformity over time.

Social roles are treated as social facts as determined by Durkheim: they are seen as institutionalised social relationships; matters of constraint rather than choice e.g. people arenā€™t free to renegotiate what it is to be a doctor, teacher, mother, or father.

Conformity to role expectations is a result of external pressure through the rewards and punishments that people apply to each others behaviour. Role-learning theory emphasises a process of role-taking: it sees people as taking on culturally given roles and acting them out in a mechanical way. Peopleā€™s actions are seen as almost completely determined by the cultural definitions and expectations that they have learned through socialisation.

Ā  Symbolic interactionism (C.H. Cooley, G. H. Mead, E. Goffman)

Focuses on the formation of self through social interaction; role-playing as a creative process (not just enacting things learned during socialisation). It originated in the social psychology of William James and was developed in its classic form by George Herbert Mead at the University of Chicago. Herbert Blumer then coined the name symbolic interactionism to distinguish it from mainstream structural-functionalist sociology.

Symbolic interactionismĀ  places strong emphasis on the roles of symbols (gestures and objects) and language as core elements of all human interaction. It sees society as a set of fluid and flexible networks of interactions and their consequences within which we act. Ā Socialisation involves a more active role of individuals.

Charles Horton Cooley

Developed the hypothesis that we learn who we are by interacting with others; our view of ourselves comes from our impressions of how others perceive us. Cooley used the phrase ā€œlooking-glass selfā€ to emphasise that the self is the product of our social interactions with other people; just like the reflections from a mirror, the self depends on the perceived responses of others.

The process of developing a self-identity of self-concept has three phases:

  1. First we imagine how we present ourselves to others
  2. Then we imagine how others evaluate us (attractive, intelligent, shy or strange)
  3. Finally, we develop some sort of feeling about ourselves, such as, respect or shame

Ā George Herbert Mead

Is best known for his theory of the self, according to Mead the self begins at a privileged, central position in a personā€™s world. Young children picture themselves as the focus of everything around them and find it difficult to consider the perspectives of others. This childhood tendency to place ourselves at the centre of events never entirely disappears. As people mature the self changes and begins to reflect greater concern about the reactions of others.

In Meadā€™s terminology there are two aspects of the self: the ā€˜Iā€™ and the ā€˜Meā€™. The ā€˜Iā€™ is the source of action, but other people observe and react towards the ā€˜Meā€™. The ā€˜Meā€™ is the social self, constructed through interactions with others and reflecting the attitudes that they adopt. The social self develops at the age of 4 or 5. At 8 or 9 children begin to take on the attitude of what Mead calls the generalised other, they begin to infer the common or widely held values of their society by generalising from particular adults to society in general. They begin to consider how other people in general within their society might react to particular kinds of actions. The attitudes of the generalised others become the voice of their moral conscious.

This theory took several readings but eventually it made sense ā€“ sort of.

Ā Erving Goffman

How do we manage our self? How do we display to others who we are?

Goffman suggested that many (if not all) of our daily activities involve attempts to convey impressions of who we are. His observations help to understand how we learn to present ourselves socially.

  • Impression management (1959) Ć  Early in life individuals learn to manage their presentation of the self to create distinct appearances and satisfy particular audiences.
  • Dramaturgical model Ć  Goffman makes so many parallels to the theatre that his view has been termed the dramaturgical approach. According to the perspective, people resemble performers in action e.g. a clerk may try to appear busier if a supervisor happens to be watching
  • Face work Ć  how often do we initiate face-saving behaviour because of embarrassment or rejection? We need to maintain a proper image of the self if we are to continue social interaction

Goffmanā€™s work of the self represents a logical progression of the sociological studies begun by Cooley and Mead on how a sense of self-identity is acquired through socialisation and how we manage the presentation of self to others. Cooley stressed the process by which we come to create a self; Mead focused on how the self develops as we learn to interact with others, Goffman emphasised the ways in which we consciously create images of ourselves to others.

Do any of these theories or approaches ring true for you? Personally, I see a few elements which are relatable such as Cooley’s realisation that our perceptions of ourselves can depend on the opinions of others and the role-learning theory stating that the definition of ‘doctor’ or ‘mother’ are more or less stable in Western culture.